Tag Archives: Moncton event centre

On political acrobats and citizen arenas

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If, we once thought, a new downtown event centre in little, old Moncton would never support artistically inclined gymnasts, torturing their minds and bodies to make their daily bread, then fear not populace.

The acrobatics of acrimony and conciliation are, in equal measures, on display right now in the council chambers and parliaments of power. Though the players’ creaking bones and calcified ligaments might be past their prime, they are nonetheless fascinating for their late-game contortions.

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe Member of Parliament Robert Goguen has devised an utterly splendid solution to the problem of funding a $107-million multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility in the Hub City’s downtown core.     As his federal Tory confederates say “no” to anything that smacks of hockey rink, Mr. Goguen, in his wisdom, has decided that all that money the feds owe to the tri-city area for regular road and sewer upgrades should be leveraged against a new downtown centre.

That is to say simply this: All the money we might have given you to upgrade your city’s urban core, we are now going to give you to expand your suburbs whose residents don’t give a fig about Main Street.

Take the municipal funds, Mr. Goguen sagely advises, that we would have otherwise invested in road repairs in the outskirts and pour it into an event centre, if, of course, we dare.

The problem with this “solution” is that it begs a problem.

It intimates that the feds have no real responsibility – notwithstanding a major build, such as an event centre – to upgrade the roads and sewers along routes in this city where people live and work. The Constitution declares otherwise.

It also suggests that a part of Moncton – the downtown core – simply does not contribute to the cultural and economic life of the greater urban area in ways and means that are sufficient to justify honest public investment. The evidence argues to the contrary.

Once again, I will trot out the fine work of my friend David Campbell, now New Brunswick’s senior economist. Three years ago he was on this file like a fly on honey. Here’s what he said:

“Like a successful shopping mall, a vibrant downtown will have economic anchors strategically located throughout the area. Moncton City Hall anchors a cluster of office buildings and services in the eastern part of the downtown and the Highfield Square Mall played this role in the western part of the downtown. “With the closure of that facility, it opens up the potential for another ‘anchor tenant’ that will drive economic activity and foot traffic in that area. There are not many large-scale opportunities that would apply on that site. The proposed Downtown Centre; however, is one such opportunity. It would be large enough to drive significant incremental economic activity into the downtown.

“The Sierra Planning and Management report reviewed for this brief estimated that the new Downtown Centre would cater to between 316,800 attendees (lower attendance scenario) and 396,000 attendees (moderate attendance scenario). These attendance estimates assume that 53 per cent of the traffic would come from regular season Wildcat home games. The lower attendance scenario is expected to result in over $12 million in new direct and offsite expenditures and the higher attendance scenario will bring in nearly $15 million in new expenditures to the downtown.”

In other words, a new downtown event centre does not need to be justified through political acrobatics. It justifies itself, and always has.

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More wheel-spinning for event center

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

All hail another day, another means test for the, as yet, unrealized Moncton Event Center. How has this facility become a white elephant even before it’s been born? For an answer, look no farther than the New Brunswick government and its new “major projects funding policy”.

This policy stipulates, among other things, that a “major project” must be financially sound, socially efficacious, internally fire-proof from failure (either acts of a capricious God or the mendacities of His human agents) and, most importantly, pervasively good for the community in question, the province the community occupies, the country the province calls home, the world the country must endure, and (though not stated explicitly), the cosmos Carl Sagan talked about when he famously called all of us “star dust”.

Specifically, the new policy stipulates the following as law:

“To facilitate regional cooperation and ensure proposals for new recreation infrastructure and major renovations are both feasible and sustainable, the principles outlined below will be used when reviewing projects seeking government funding:

“Applications for recreation infrastructure projects seeking RDC funding must (1.) Include a Needs Assessment Consideration – should be given to the following: a) location of the proposed new as well as existing infrastructure; b) Infrastructure in adjacent communities; c) demographics of the community and surrounding area (both past and anticipated for the future); and d) community plans.” Then there’s “(2.) Include a Business Plan – a Business Plan that demonstrates the viability of the project is a requirement.”

Blah, blah, blah. . .

Here’s the kicker anyone actually needs to know as reported by the Moncton Times & Transcript more than a week ago: “Another policy criteria states successful projects must leverage funding or investment from federal, local or private sources and must demonstrate all required financing is in place before receiving money from the province.”

So, then, what exactly has changed? Isn’t this precisely the same circumstance Moncton faced before the provincial government introduced its newly vaunted Regional Development Corporation Guiding Principles for Recreation Infrastructure Investments (or RDCGPRII, to, you know, just shorten the long hand a tad)?

The story rarely changes in government relations. One level starts with a proposition that it can’t possibly behave responsibly until and unless another does. The second one, in due curtsy-cue, insists that it can’t act appropriately until the first one comes forth with its hand and begs for a minuet around the dance floor. Since both are, essentially, wallflowers, the band plays on, the parents and chaperones get depressed (or drunk), and everyone wakes up with hangover in a giant hole in the ground where an event center ought to have been built before politics became the true name of the tune.

Hey, kids, I have a few ideas. Now that summer threatens, why don’t we, in the Hub City, repudiate any idea of petitioning governments or their factotums.

That vast, ugly, dirt-strewn, 11-acre tract of land in the middle of Moncton can be repurposed in a variety of efficient ways. As the city owns it, thanks to our municipal taxes, so do we. By extension, we could. . .well, just occupy it.

Call it a commons, but don’t bother sodding it over. No, no, we like our suburban mansions far too much to also pay for a downtown park. Let’s just transform it into a free parkade, a place to spin our wheels and, when we’re done, moor our Ford 150s and Ram 1500s until we’re good and ready to take them home to our various “Pleasantvilles”.

Why not?

It beats letting government tell us what to do with our very own elephant graveyard.

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Praise be for our disruptive human tendencies

 

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For those of us who do not spend our every idle moment glued to LinkedIn or any number of other warehouses of business management trends, the phrase “disruptive innovation” makes about as much sense as particle physics. In fact, the former may be even more inscrutable than the latter.

So, here is a quick and easy definition, courtesy of Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who coined the term and wrote a book on the subject back in 1997: “Disruptive innovation takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing competitors.”

The idea is that “as companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ needs evolve, most organizations eventually end up producing products or services that are actually too sophisticated, too expensive and too complicated for many in their market.”

Traditionally, this niche approach to marketing and technology development secures higher rates of return on investment and better, more sustained profits, because expert consumers will spend money on gear that they think will separate them from the herd. And herein lies the peril.

By focussing on these so-called “sustaining innovations” producers “unwittingly open the door to disruptive innovations at the bottom end of the market.” An innovation that is disruptive essentially upsets the apple cart by allowing “a whole new population of consumers at the bottom of the market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.”

Call it extinction by inattention. But whatever you call it, examples of disruptive technologies, processes and services are everywhere. 

Think about that smart phone in your pocket. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was a ludicrously larded device that, conventional wisdom insisted, would be forever relegated to the lifestyles of the rich and powerful. Now, thanks to some cheap and efficient applications in hardware and software, it’s as common and as pricey as a set of all-weather tires on a Nissan Versa.

New “disruptives” available in the near future will likely include: embedded sensors in that  smart phone you’re caressing that tell you whether you’ve brushed your teeth properly; wearable technologies that, among things, track your sleep patterns; and, naturally, driverless cars that eliminate the dangers of texting while cruising down the highway.

Not everyone thinks this stuff is all it’s cracked up to be. New Yorker writer and Harvard history professor Jill Lepore, in a brilliantly argued essay this month, suggests that Mr. Christensen essentially kites his data by finding facts that are not in evidence. Some of the biggest “disrupters”, she says, are the very firms the theory predicts will and do fail. 

Besides, she suggests, innovation is always inherently upsetting. Companies rise and fall just as easily according to the ephemeral rules of luck and timing. In this case, size and longevity do not necessarily matter. 

Frankly, I take comfort in both views, especially as they apply to southeastern New Brunswick and its acknowledged centre of enterprise, Metro Moncton.

Here, of course, disruption has been our cardinal métier since anyone can remember. 

Once, we were all about shipping and shipbuilding. Then we weren’t. Once, we were all about wholesaling and retailing. Then we weren’t. 

Now, we’re all about IT, multi-modal transportation, health care, and software development. 

Each bump along the road to sustained economic progress elevated disrupters and, in the process, changed our local economy mostly for the better. 

And not just our economy. 

The Petitcodiac River flowed freely for thousands of years before our forebears erected a causeway between Moncton and Riverview in 1968. We disrupted it. Then, a few years ago we disrupted it again by permanently opening the gates. Now, the river attracts surfers from California, desperate to ride the renewed tidal bore for 90 minutes at a go. Disruption? You bet, and thanks be for it. 

In the end, we engineer what we need. Disruption? Perchance, thy name is a multi-purpose, downtown events centre.

 

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